The Birth of the Israelite Nation Part I - Settlement in Canaan
Fact Paper 39-I
© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved
- An Enduring Mystery
- The Conquest Model of Israelite Settlement
- The Infiltration Model of Israelite Settlement
- The Peasant's Revolt Model of Israelite Settlement
- Negators of the Biblical Account
- A Case in Point: Edom
- Biblical Validity
- Israelite Architecture and Engineering
- A Typical Israelite Dwelling
- Israelites in the Negev
An Enduring Mystery
It is written that a great band of erstwhile Egyptian slaves wandered through the desert for forty years. It is written that the desert experience brought the wanderers close to their creator. It is written that the bedraggled band survived by the miracles wrought by Him, and learned His laws through the great prophet who led them through the wilderness. It is written that a covenant was entered into between the people and their creator. It is written that in return for accepting the burden of abiding by His laws in a wicked world of iniquity and idolatry, they were awarded a land from which they would wander no more, a land in which they would become a nation.
So it is written.
The fact is that hundreds of Israelite villages suddenly appeared on the hilltops of Canaan at the close of the Bronze Age in the twelfth century B.C.E.
Where did the villagers come from?
The provenance of the Israelite villagers is an enduring mystery.
The archaeologist Israel Finklestein noted in 1988 that some two hundred and forty such settlements were found to have sprung into existence in that century. At least 96 of them settled in the area biblically attributed to the tribe of Manassah and another 22 established villages in the area biblically attributed to Benjamin and Judah. "In addition, 68 sites have been identified in the Galilee, 18 in the Jordan Valley, and dozens of others on the Transjordanian plateau." These figures are far from complete, Finklestein noted about the perplexing process of Israelite settlement, that "because sites proliferated all over the region in Iron I, no doubt more will be discovered in the future." More, indeed, have been discovered since Finklestein wrote the article, and they add substance to the mystery.1
Finklestein is no supporter of the biblical tradition. He is, in fact, a leading sceptic of the biblical account. Yet he, and archaeologists of whatever position on the authenticity of the biblical account, are forced to face up to the fact that these Israelite villages came into existence. The arguments are not whether they appeared but how and from whence they came.
The period in which the Israelites appeared is archaeologically assigned to the beginning of Iron Age I, The seeding of the Iron Age on the hills and in the forests of Canaan is likewise substantiated in its broad outlines by archaeological revelations. It matters little whether the
biblical version of the materialization of the Israelite nation on the Canaanite highlands is accepted in whole, in part, or not at all. Two events coincidently took place in the Canaanite highlands in the twelfth century B.C.E.:
The birth of the Iron Age.
The birth of the Israelite nation.
The discoveries resulting from excavations in Eretz Israel during the last century fostered three main theories for the formation of the Israelite nation, and many subsets of each theory ensued.
The Conquest Model of Israelite Settlement
The "Conquest Model," mirrors the biblical narrative. It was assumed by the early rummagers in Israel's ancient rubble. Among them were many Americans, such as the intrepid archaeologist and explorer Nelson Glueck, who was intrigued by "the astonishing historical memory of the Bible."2 Other promoters of the "Conquest Model" included apologetic Protestant scholars such as the renowned and respected William Foxwell Albright. They became known as the "American School" of archaeologists who excavated with "a spade in one hand and the Bible in the other." Albeit these early diggers in ancient graves and garbage pits admitted to some dubious details in the biblical account, they nonetheless argued for the substantial authenticity of the Exodus and Conquest narratives.
The Conquest Model has retained few archaeological adherents. The biblical account is brought into question by too many inconsistencies with "facts under the ground." Yet, at the same time, the biblical account is being constantly reinforced by discoveries that have biblical congruence. Archaeologists are, perforce, obliged to use the biblical narrative as a reference point, even when it is not substantiated by excavation Even a fourth, recently emerged "minimalist" school of archaeology, one that holds that the Bible has little historical relevance, must use the Bible to negate it!
The Infiltration Model of Israelite Settlement
The "Infiltration Model" of Israelite settlement derives from a theory launched by Albrecht Alt in a set of essays published in 1925. Alt argued that the twelve-tribe confederacy (or "Amphictyony," a sacral league of tribes formed during the period of Judges), was not the one detailed
in Exodus and in Numbers but a Canaanite confederacy that predated Israel. Alt leaned heavily upon the incursion of the "Hyksos," a "Syrian" [i.e., Aramaic] people who reorganized the society of, petty, autonomous Canaanite tribes into more centrally controlled city-states. Among the Hyksos was a powerful warrior class who introduced chariot warfare into the region from the Mesopotamian Highlands and by whose military process the Hyksos gained hegemony over Egypt and Canaan and became a feudal class ensconced within fortifications from which they ruled the serfs of the countryside. The Hyksos lords were defeated by the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom and subjected to Egyptian rule until the collapse of Egyptian power the end of the 13th century. Egyptian debility loosed their hold on local tribes. Reinforced by influxes of new settlers, these tribes acquired a territorial and national consciousness.
The Alt theory was revised and expanded by his student, Martin Noth (and was henceforth referred to as the Alt-North theory), who considered Israelite occupation an essentially peaceful process in which pastoral peoples separately and independently took root in the occupied areas between agricultural Canaanite communities to which they had traditionally dispersed seasonally. According to this view, the twelve-tribe amphictyony came into being after and not prior to the settlement. With further modifications, the Alt-North theory found a sympathetic acceptance by a number of archeologists, including Prof. Benjamin Mazar, the dean of modern Israeli archaeologists. He held that the early Israelites were generally stock-breeders (some archeologists persist in terming them "nomads"), originating from Transjordan and the Negev, who, after coming to terms, by war or alliance with the Canaanite population composed of three ethnic strains (Hivites based in Shehem, Hittites in Hebron, and Jebusites in Jerusalem), gradually adapted to village life.3
A continuing accumulation of evidence suggests that the Israelites were less of a pastoral people than had been assumed, let alone nomads. The expertise they exhibited in architecture, agronomy, industry, and pyro-technology immediately upon their arrival, suggests that they were essentially an urban, literate people who arrived with a high level of technological proficiency. The scores of Iron I Israelite villages and cities that came to light since the Alt-Noth model was proposed impelled archaeologists such as Aharon Kempinski, Yohanan Aharoni, and Volkmar Fritz to swing to the support of the Infiltration Model.
A revised model gingerly proposed by Volkmar Fritz did not completely reject the inclusion of pastoral or urban people as settlers, but leant toward their sedentary attributes in its vision of the genesis of the Israelite nation. " The various groups that settled in the country from the twelfth century onward cannot be regarded as former nomads. wrote Fritz, and in order to accommodate the shift in emphasis proposes a new name in place of the "Infiltration Model: "I would like to call the new theory the symbiosis hypothesis."4
Professor Aharoni also viewed the Israelites as a pastoral people who dispersed peacefully over several hundred years into sparsely occupied territories to become a sedentary people. He then expanded upon the scenario of gradual osmosis by adding that "[In the wake of this movement] a mighty population revolution was brought about, unparalleled in the history of the country... The occupational center of gravity passed from the valleys to the hill country, which was henceforth the center of Israelite life down to the end of the monarchy."5
The Peasant's Revolt Model of Israelite Settlement
Aharoni's vision of the creation of the Israelite nation led to the third "Peasant's Revolt" or "Internal Revolt" hypothesis, advanced by Professor George E. Mendenhall of Michigan University and subsequently modified and proposed by Norman Gottwald and Cornelis de Geus. It posits a revolt of an oppressed Canaanite underclass against the feudal overlords ensconced in the citadels of the city-states. Gottwald, a fervent proponent of this theory, emphasizes that "the basic division was not between agriculture and nomadism but between centralized, stratified and elitist cities, on the one hand, and the non-statist, egalitarian countryside on the other." The oppressed population of the fiefs of ruthless and ambitious overlords, probably reinforced by migrant alien elements escaping Egyptian and other tyrannies, fostered a social and religious revolutionary upheaval that generated a new sociological entity. "
The "Peasant's Revolt" theorists, as is seen from Gottwald's remarks, account for the inclusion of refugees from Egypt among the revolutionary elements. It is proposed that it may well have been the small group of escaped Egyptian slaves, singing the praises of their liberating God, Yahweh, who galvanized the smoldering resentment of the long-suffering Canaanite and pastoral masses into revolutionary fervor against their overlords. The Yahwehites heralded an egalitarian society in which social justice would replace exploitation. The downtrodden Canaanites, identifying with the proselytizing Yahwehites, revolted, and took refuge along with the erstwhile slaves in the central highlands.
The explanation that Israelite villages had proliferated because of a displacement from the lowlands to the hills was not convincing. Far from diminishing in numbers, the total population of Canaan inexplicably burgeoned over an extremely short time in the transition
from coastal-plain to hilltop communities. Larry Stager, at a meeting on Israelite origins, was impelled to counter Gottwald's argument by emphasizing that a massive immigration into Canaan is the only explanation for the population explosion from the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 B.C.E.) to Iron Age I (1200-1000 B.C.E.).6
Negators of the Biblical Account
A new veil was recently cast over the ethnogenesis of the Israelites by promulgators of what was termed the "New Archaeology." The proponents suggested that archaeology should be based upon (some insisted it should be restricted to) facts produced by objective technological analysis. Inasmuch as documentary evidence was all suspect, historical truth should be ascertained through neutron activation analysis, lead isotope analysis, magnetronomy, remote sensing, thermoluminescence, paleozoology, paleobotany, ethno-archaeology and so on.
This approach spurred a "revisionist" or "minimalist" group of archaeologists, who insist that the Bible has little value as an historical account, and least of all of the period of presumed Israelite settlement. These sceptics focus on inconsistencies and blanks in the biblical account, and ignore or reinterpret the archaeological record where it supports the account.
The minimalists rely largely on negative proofs, insisting that the gaps in the biblical account prove its documentary inadmissability. The time frame of biblical events is disputed to account for the instances in which the Bible was proved to be geographically accurate. Abraham, Moses, Saul, Solomon, and David are deemed to be mythical figures.
The discovery of an inscription at Tel Dan referring to the "House of David" shattered the posits of the revisionist "minimalists" and placed them in limbo. The inscription was found on stone slabs imbedded in the outer wall of a gate that was destroyed in the eighth century B.C.E.. To salvage their position, the minimalists ignominiously launched accusations of forgery against the prestigious excavator of the site, Professor Avraham Biran. The method they used was indicative of the weakness of their position. Caught red-handed with vitriolic pens in hand, they first spread rumors through the internet that the slabs were not found in situ, but were forgeries placed in a wheelbarrow by Professor Biran.
The accusations soon proved to be viciously false.
Undaunted, the revisionists then based their entire argument on the assumption that the reference was not to a structure because there appears to be no dot (divider) between "House" and "David." They are not dissuaded by the fact that the dot is absent from many ancient Aramaic inscriptions and documents.
The minimalists are as dogmatic in negating the Bible as the most orthodox of the orthodox are in insisting that every word is an indelible part of the holy truth. The intractable negativism of the purists led a historian, Baruch Halpern, to term their stance as "negative fundamentalism."7
Minimalist conclusions are being toppled time and time again by revelations from the field, facts often reinforced by the very technologies they hold dear. Retreats and revisions are continually engendered by unanticipated discoveries that generally reinforce biblical historicity and rarely cast doubt upon its verity.
A Case in Point: Edom
Typical of the backtracking maneuvers of the revisionists concerns the Edomites, whose existence was known only from the Bible some eighty years ago.
"How can it be," the sceptics asked, "that not a trace can be found of a people saturating biblical history as an enemy of the Israelites, a people who refused passage to the hordes escaping Egypt, a people with whom Saul and David fought, a people who rebelled and established their own kingdom and were re-conquered by the Israelite king Amaziah,, a people who once again freed themselves and flourished until the Babylonian devastations brought both kingdoms to an end, a people upon whom the lamenting prophets Obadiah, Isaiah, Joel, Amos and Malachi continued to vent their wrath and contumely? How can it be that no trace of these biblical Edomites exist?"
The revisionists had to beat a retreat time and time again, starting with the discoveries of the American rabbi-archaeologist Nelson Glueck. While serving as a secret service (OSS) agent of the United States in his surveys east of the Jordan in the 1930's, Glueck found substantial physical evidence that Edomite tribes had indeed populated the Negev. The material evidence was soon supplemented by a translation of an Egyptian papyrus in which their identification was fixed.8
New, even more substantive evidence surfaced at the opposite pole of the ancient Near-Eastern world. Victory inscriptions by Assyrian rulers Adad-Nirari (810-783 B.C.E.), and Tiglith-Pileser III (747-727 B.C.E.), were translated and it was found that both included Edom in their roster of conquests, as did Sargon II, who cited Edom among the states against which he fought in his campaign of 712 B.C.E.. Thereafter, Sennacherib recorded the tribute paid by the Edomite king Aiaramu, and another king of Edom is registered as rendering financial assistance to the erection of Esarhadon's royal palace in Eshnunna.
These and other Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions were reinforced by Yohanan Ahorani's recovery of Hebrew letters from the ruins of the fortress of Arad relating to its imminent destruction in 595 B.C.E.. The Judahite commander of Arad "is ordered to send soldiers to reinforce the garrison at Ramat Negeb in the eastern Negev, because an attack by the Edomites is anticipated - 'Lest the Edomites come.'"9
After the State of Israel was formed, archaeological research assumed a new importance and a series of discoveries regarding the Edomites ensued, beginning with the unearthing of the Edomite city of Bozrah by Dr. Crystal Bennet of the British School of Archaeology. Bozrah is mentioned several times in the Bible as the capital of Edom. A substantial Edomite inscription was recovered from Tel-Kaheleifeh by Professor Joseph Naveh of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In 1984 Itzhaq Beit-Arieh began excavating Qitmit, located in the heart of the Judahite settlement in the Negev. The site provided massive evidence of its Edomite conquest about the time of the fall of Judah in 586 B.C.E., or a few years later. Dr. Beit-Arieh concluded that Qitmit "attests to the continued struggle between Judah and Edom since the peoples emerged as nations, a struggle amply reflected in the Bible."10
The revisionists remain undaunted and unapologetic about similar archaeological revelations that suggest that the Bible, with all its inconsistencies, remains a rich and unprecedented historical document. They continue to rely mainly on negative proofs and propose revisions of dates to make their case. As new discoveries make their arguments moot, they move on to new biblical anomalies. They dismiss an extra-biblical Egyptian document that identifies a people called Israel who dwelt in Canaan, an inscription on a stela found in Thebes by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1886. The stela was erected by the Pharaoh Merenptah in the fifth year of his reign (1212-1202 B.C.E.). The coda of the inscription recounts, with customary pharaonic hyperbole, the subjection of a number of nations, including Israel, to Merenptah's ravaging campaign into Canaan: "Israel is laid waste," the inscription boasts, "his seed is not!"11 The anti-biblical school dismisses the text as a "literary illusion with little basis in fact, a kind of poetic hyperbole." Poetic or not, the point being scorned by the intransigent hardliners is that a people called Israel was in fact entered upon the record Merenptah left to posterity. Its date and specificity does not deter the revisionists from assigning Israelite existence to at least four centuries later.
The pharaoh's prediction was not fulfilled, for Israel rose to prominence on the hills of Canaan.
A literal interpretation of the Biblical narratives is proposed by few historians, yet many insist that the Israelite nation came into being much as is outlined in the Bible. They point out that whether the account came about through divine inspiration or was retained in acute tribal memory is not germane to its intrinsic value as an historical document.
There is considerable justification for this view. How else to account for Israelite names of Egyptian origin such as Moses, Pinechas, and Hophni? More convincingly, the identifications of peoples other than the Edomites and of the villages and cities known only from the Bible ensued. Biblical sites are continuously being "discovered" precisely where the Bible put them. Notably among these, for example, were the cities of Pithom and Avaris, cities long relegated to biblical mythology by the skeptics. Each revelation adds to an impressive roster of substantiating "facts from the ground" that far outweigh the inconsistencies, albeit many inconsistencies are evident.
Dr. Yigael Yadin, who continued to insist that he approaches every dig with a spade in one hand and a Bible in the other, declared that "archaeology has increased my belief that basically the historical parts of the Bible are true... I think archaeology has given me, if you ask me subjectively, a greater respect for the Bible."12
Assyrian, Babylonian, and other inscriptions do more than bring the Edomites into the limelight. There is considerable evidence supporting each of the three models of Israelite settlement that place it atop the hills of Canaan in the twelfth century B.C.E. Some archaeologists combine elements of each model in an attempt to produce a viable explanation of the sudden and mysterious appearance of the hundreds of Israelite villages on the Canaanite hills. Egyptian records provide ample evidence that the transition period from the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age I was indeed an era of growing proletarian unrest. Flights of slaves, convicts, and indentured laborers working the farms, quarries, monuments and other constructions were commonly complained about in Egyptian inscriptions. Typical of these complaints by officials of the period was one written during the reign of the same Merenptah who inscribed the Israelites upon a stela: "Of the cultivators of the estate of the Pharaoh which is under the authority of my lord," the scribe wrote guilelessly, "two [more] have fled from the stable-master Neferhotpe as he beat them. Now look!," the official continues his complaint, "The fields are now abandoned and there is no-one there to till them."13
However they came into existence, the fact is that during the biblical period of Judges at the end of the Bronze Age, hundreds of Israelite villages mushroomed in Eretz Israel, the land of Israel. Most of them were implanted upon the hilltops of Canaan. The region had never been extensively populated. It was a rock-strewn wooded area that had to be laboriously cleared for habitation and farming. A few other Israelite villages spread out into the Negev, a desolate, arid region. Israelite housing and industrial installations bore unmistakable earmarks of a people versed in architecture and agriculture, a people whose knowledge and competence in crafts of all kinds reflected a heritage of urban and agronomic expertise. Many Israelites were literate, a cultural attribute that was not relegated to a few scribes but was shared by the common people to an extent that the world had not as yet experienced.
Israelite Architecture and Engineering
The remarkable aspect of the villages was the unique architecture of their houses. The Israelite houses that proliferated throughout Canaan and the Negev were of a distinctive, radical, advanced type of architecture. Israelite private dwellings were distinguished by the use of stone pillars for supporting the roof beams. This orthostatic feature was almost entirely absent from private housing of the region and rare even in monumental structures. The houses were generally composed of four rooms flanking a courtyard. The Israelite four-room pillared house is an ancestor and prototype of the "Roman" villa.
By the monarchical period, the privately owned Israelite houses had become more elaborate. A second story was not unusual, and plumbing systems occasionally appeared, the earliest use of such installations outside of the palaces. The architectural sophistication gave professor Aharoni pause in regard to the commonly promoted belief that the Israelites had heretofore been a nomadic or at best, a pastoral people. Aharoni declared that: "This technical knowledge of architecture is evidence that the tribes were not completely nomadic when they arrived in the country."14
Water was scarce on the inhospitable, rocky summits on which the Israelites perched their communities. Wells had to be dug deep to reach the water table, or water-gathering cisterns had to be hacked out of the rock underlying the houses. Many houses were outfitted with drains, engineered to effectively collect rainwater from the roofs and transmit it to the cisterns.
The immediate institution of such systems evidence a people who arrived with the knowledge and ability to institute them. Israelite cisterns were not only common to all the settlements but also engineered with innovations that marked a new development in the storage of water and bespoke the creativity of the people who engineered them. Many cisterns were quarried out of the chalky layers that interspersed the limestone of which the hills were largely formed. The wet chalk generally formed an impermeable seal. When chalk was insufficient or absent, the cisterns were lined with mortar, a seemingly simple solution for efficient water conservation that had never been applied before.
A series of interconnecting cisterns were often dug, not only to guarantee sufficient storage capacity but also to form a filtration system. The opening to the passage of water from one cistern to another was placed near its top, thus acting as a settling basin as well as increasing storage capacity. Water was also sometimes obtained by channels draining the nearby terrain as an independent system or as an adjunct to that installed at the houses. In these cases, the channels led the water into a settling trap filled with gravel.
One of the ironies of classical historiography is the way in which it assigns distinctly Israelite architectural attributes to that of the later classical period. The Greeks, for example, are credited for the development and use of "Aeolic" and "Ionic" columns. The classical scholars therefore feel justified in terming the Israelite volute capital, indubitably the precursor and model for the Hellenic versions, as "Proto-Aeolic,' or "Proto-Ionic."
The scholarly pundits are not so generous with the Romans, readily admitting that Roman architecture is indebted technically and stylistically to that of the Greeks. Such generosity, however, stops at the Aegean. The uniquely Israelite volute capital is a decorative ornament at the top of a pillar in which a pair of scrolls spiral out from a central triangle, and is usually decorated at the crook of the scrolls by a small, stylized, palm leaf or blossom. The origin of the motif itself harks back to the third millennium B.C.E., spanning the Fertile Crescent on a variety of artifacts such as cylinder seals, ivories, reliefs, and amulets. Its incorporation into the capitals of columns, however, must be attributed to the Israelite architects. The motif became refined and employed in the capitals of freestanding and relief pillars in major edifices in Hazor, Megiddo, Samaria, Jerusalem, Gezer, and at smaller Israelite royal installations as far afield as Transjordan and Moab. "One can hardly believe it coincidental," commented Aharoni, "[that] not even one has been found in some adjacent land." The earliest appearance of an equivalent architectural feature occurs in Cyprus several hundreds of years later in the seventh century B.C.E.15
The incongruity of naming this distinctly Israelite architectural feature after future Greek derivatives struck another distinguished Israeli archaeologist, Yigael Yadin . While excavating at Hazor," Yadin wrote, "to our great surprise - and delight - we found two beautiful Proto-Aeolic or Proto-Ionic capitals lying on the floor." He was then constrained to explain, "they are known as Proto-Aeolic or Proto-Ionic because it is certain that the classical Ionic columns developed from this much earlier type representing a stylized palm-tree."15A
The irony of the use of these two terms was not lost on Aharoni, who observed with obvious sarcasm that "one does not call the Phoenician script 'Proto-Ionic'"15B The full extent of the irony, however, seems to have escaped even Aharoni, for he used the Greek term "Phoenician," in place of "Canaanite!"
Aharoni's scorn could be extended to the use of the term "Alphabet," in substitution for the original Canaanite and Hebraic Aleph-beth.
A Typical Israelite Dwelling
A vivid picture of unfettered life in the early Israelite villages and of the agronomic, industrial and cultural intelligence of their inhabitants has emerged from excavations at Ai and at nearby Raddana. The Bible states that Ai was, after Jericho, the second city to have been taken by the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. The field work was performed under John A Callaway, who estimated that the towns of Ai and Raddana had come into existence about 1220 B.C.E. and that the cisterns underneath the houses were built before the houses were built over them. Paved streets were another indication that 'the new settlers had already lived a sedentary life elsewhere, and had a high degree of technical skill."16
Callaway described in detail the house of an Israelite named Ahilud in the village of Khirbut Raddana, some four miles east of Ai.17 The identification of the family owning the house was evident from Ahilud's name inscribed on a storage jar handle in old Hebrew script.18 The name Ahilud also appears in the Bible as the father of Jehosaphat, an official recorder at king David's court. Thus literacy is evident as one of the attributes of this and other Israelite families of the village.
Evidence of Israelite literacy was bolstered by a text found at Izbet Sartah,19 dated to about 1200 B.C.E., a date falling into the transition from settlement to the period of Judges. The text was evidently written by two persons, and the last line is composed of all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew aleph-beth (an abecedarium). It was evidently written by a student practicing the aleph-beth.20 Another student's inscription was found at Gezer. It dates to the tenth century and attests to a continuing tradition of literacy. In addition, many Israelite signatures on pottery handles, bullae, and the like indicate that literacy was not confined to a few scribes but was widely practiced. Examples of twelfth-century writing have turned up at Megiddo, Shechem, Beth-Shemesh, Lachish, Gezer and elsewhere.
Ahilud dwelt in a modest three-room dwelling, simpler than the ususal four-room variety, albeit it did feature a row of four roof-supporting pillars. The modest house was, however, one of three structures clustered
around a center courtyard, a complex of buildings that not only housed Ahilud's extended family but provided faculties for a variety of domestic, industrial and agricultural activities. A silo was installed at the corner of one of the houses. Three cooking pits in and near the courtyard and a large fire pit at the center of the large room of the main house provided cooking facilities for a large group of tenants and the means by which commercial tasks could be performed.
The caverns of three cisterns were quarried out under the main house, an additional cistern was installed under one of the adjoining houses, and still another was installed in a room outfitted with a hearth for metal-working. "Here, metal ingots were melted into crucibles and the molten metal was poured into molds to form daggers, spear points and axe heads for Ahilud and other members of the community."21
A variety of tanged and hafted bronze tools and weapons and well-worn grinding stones attest silently but convincingly to a well-developed cottage industry throughout the Israelite communities. Iron tools were likewise unearthed from these communities, dated from the thirteenth century B.C.E. forward. At first, the number of iron implements was not substantial, but what is significant about them is that the agricultural tools among them are found only in Israelite contexts. An iron plow was found, for example, at Tell el-Full, identified as Gibeah (Gibeon), Saul's capital. Several iron sickles recovered from Beer-Sheba are typical of such implements recovered from Israelite communities from the upper reaches of the Galilee to the Negev.
An iron smeltery of the late thirteenth century B. C. E. was found at Yin'am, just southwest of Lake Tiberias. It was the region in which the biblical Rechabite metalworkers roamed, a forested area that supplied the fuel needed for the purpose. Seven samples of the slag were analyzed, and hematite spheres, droplets of metallic iron, showed up in them all. Pieces of rusted iron in the debris of the smeltery and other evidence left no doubt about the function of this industrial installation.
All the archaeological evidence from scores of the newly-established Israelite villages exhibits a clear pattern of independence and competence. Callaway, the excavator of Ahilud's house, characterized the Israelites as "isolationist and highly individualistic." Callaway then added in emphasis that this may explain why it was so difficult to establish a monarchy, for "from the beginning, Israel was self-sufficient, family-centered and characteristically independent."22
Archeology thus serves to amplify the biblical observation in Judges 21:25 that in "those days there was no king in the land of Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes."
Ferric production burgeoned with the establishment of the monarchy and the formation of a cohesive nation, a period recognized as Iron Age II, in which the production of iron tools was not sporadic but became a viable industry. A blacksmith's shop of the Solomonic period, for example, was uncovered at Megiddo by Gottlieb Schumancher. The iron ore, slag, and ash found on the site evidenced an industry that had been in operation for a considerable time. A wide variety of ferric products were being produced and survived in the substantial hoard of iron products found at the facility. It included an assortment of agricultural tools such as plowshares, hoes, sickles and goads, and industrial products such as chisels, shovels, knives and nails. The discovery of the Megiddo smithy provided an unmistakable demonstration that the Israelite tradition of iron-working was already ancient and well established.23
A few iron knives or daggers have been found among other cultures, but they are dated to the tenth century B.C.E., that is, the beginning of Iron Age II. They were clearly imports. The cross-over from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age, therefore, took place solely on the Canaanite hills among the Israelite communities from the thirteenth to the tenth century B.C.E..24
Israelites in the Negev
An iron sickle and an iron knife was recovered from Tell Masos, a site in the heart of the Negev desert, again attests to how widespread was the advanced engineering, commercial, and agricultural proficiencies of the Israelites.
Tel Masos is a prime example of the progressive, peaceful development and life that was enjoyed there in the pre-monarchical period. An important consideration in support of the "Peaceful Infiltration" model of Israelite settlement is a fact emphasized by Callaway, that these hundreds of villages remained un-walled and unfortified for as much as two centuries. The circumstance was true not merely of the highland communities, but also of the Israelite settlements in the dry, harsh environment of the southern desert lands such as Tell Masos.
The village covered forty dunams on virgin ground near a wadi. It sat astride the trade route that stretched from the northern Mediterranean coast to the Gulf of Elath. The commercial activities of the inhabitants are attested to by a variety of goods present from all along this route. Decorated pottery from the northern Canaanite Mediterranean shores, Philistine ware from the southern littoral, and "Midianite ware" from the Elath area were all found in the houses of the village.
Pillared houses of the same advanced type that appeared ubiquitously as an Israelite trademark throughout Eretz Israel were common in each of three Tel Masos strata. An elaborate palace and fortifications were conspicuously absent, as was true of all Israelite villages of the period, but public buildings for various productive and administration purposes were erected within the village, a clear indication of a well-organized, self-reliant society.
A stockade for harboring animals and a building with a large silo built into the courtyard were prominent among the communal structures. The walls of the large silo "were strengthened by a series of salients, at fixed intervals... The tribes were not deterred by the special difficulties of settling in the arid Negev," noted Aharoni with evident admiration, "which was possible only with the help of appreciable technological skill and in the utilization of water resources."25
Farming was a vital Masoite industry. A variety of bronze agricultural tools were recovered in addition to the iron implements. Most remarkable was the resourceful manner in which the Israelites manipulated the meager water supply. Channels were dug along the slopes of the ravine whose rim was flanked by the houses of the community. The system was a most ingenious method of maximizing the collection and storage of water during the rare occasions when it became available. The unique water-gathering system was a precursor of a method of desert agriculture that only "reached its zenith during the Roman-Byzantine period."26
Beersheba is another of several sites at which conditions prevailed similar to those of Tel Masos, with one notable difference: The three pre-monarchical Israelite strata overlaid a well associated with an earlier stratum. The well had been dug from what was then the crest of the site
on which an altar and other evidence of worship was also found. The well was a remarkable achievement of that earlier period, having been hewn through the bedrock to a depth of over 125 feet. It was also unusual in that the effort required to place the well at that point was known to its excavators to be unnecessary, for around the rise were other wells in the vicinity of the nearby wadi that reached the water-table less than thirty feet below the surface.
"This may establish with considerable certainty," wrote Aharoni, "that this is the well, the digging of which is ascribed to the patriarchs in the Bible (Gen. 21:25, 26:25)."27
The fact that hundreds of Israelite villages suddenly appeared in Canaan at the turn of the thirteenth century B. C. E. is, therefore, firmly established. The fact that they were technologically sophisticated and were instrumental in the transition from Late Bronze Age II to Iron Age I is likewise evident.
Who were these Israelites?
Where did they come from?
Those mysteries will be addressed in the following HHF Fact Paper #39-II.
1: Israel Finklestein,
"Searching for Israelite Origins," Biblical Archaeological Review,
14:5, (Oct. 1988)1, 39-40.
2: Albert A. Soggin, A History of Ancient Israel; From the Beginning to the Bar Khochba revolt AD 135, trans. John Bowden, Westminister Press, 1984.
3: Benjamin Mazar, The Early Biblical Period, Historical Studies (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1986). The first three of fifteen articles relate to Israelite settlement.
4:.Volkmar Fritz, "Conquest or Settlement?" BAR, 50:2 (June 1987).
5: Yohanan Aharoni, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, Westminster Press, 1982
6: Origin of the Israelites, a report in the Biblical Archaeological Review 14:2 (March-April 1988),54, on the annual meeting organized by Dr. William Dever entitled "New Perspectives on the Emergence of Israel in Canaan."
7: Baruch Halpern The First Historians, Harper & Row, 1988, 4.
8: Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, "New Light on the Edomites," BAR, 14:2 (March-April 1988), 30.
9: Beit-Arieh, Ibid., 35.
10: Beit-Arieh, Ibid., 41.
11: James A. Pritchard, ed. The Ancient Near East, ed. Princeton Un. Press, reprint 1973, 231.
12: Hershel Shanks, "BAR Interviews Yigael Yadin," BAR 9:1, Jan.-Feb. 1983, 16-21.
13: Herman Kees, Ancient Egypt; A Cultural Typography." trans. Ian F. D. Morrow Un. Of Chic. Press, 1961, 73.
14: Yohanan Aharoni, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, trans. A. F. Rainey, Westminster Press, 1982, 161.
15: Aharoni, Ibid, 215.
15A: Yigael Yadin, Hazor, Random House, 1975, 257.
15B: Aharoni, Ibid, 214.
16: .Joseph A. Callaway, "A Visit with Ahilud," BAR, Sept. - Oct. 1983, reprinted in Archaeology and the Bible, , Biblical Archaeological Society, 1990, 65-75.
17: Callaway, Ibid.., 65-70.
18: Callaway, ideem., and Yohanan Aharoni, Khirbet Raddana and its Inscriptions," Israel Exploration Journal, 1971, 130-135.
19. Trude Dothan, "In the Days When the Judges Ruled - Research on the Period of the Settlement and the Judges. Recent Archaeology in the Land of Israel, ed. Hershel Shanks, Biblical Archaeological Society, 1981, 35
20: Aaron Demsky and Moshe Kochavi, "An Alphabet from the Days of the Judges," Biblical Archaeological Review, Sept.-Oct. 1978, 23-25.
21: Callaway, Ibid., 69.
22: Callaway, Ibid., 75.
23: Yohanan Aharoni, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, trans. A. F. Rainey, Westminster Press, 1982, 156.
24: A comprehensive review of the Israelite contribution to the birth of the Iron Age is given in "[Israelite] Architecture and Engineering and Architecture, and in "Pyrotechnology in Eretz Israel," chapters 10 and 11 respectively of "The Eighth Day, The Hidden History of the Jewish Contribution to Civilization, Jason Aronson Inc., 1994, 191-231.
25: Aharoni, Ibid., 167.
26: Aharoni, Ibid, 171.
27: Aharoni, Ibid., 168.